February

A list of what we’re up to at the moment:

– We’re working with a very large client at the moment helping them plan and find partners for a hardware project. Hopefully more on that in the next months.

– We’ve been giving SevenLeague a bit of advice on an exciting project they have for one of their sports clients.

– Starting soon we’ll be helping Wintec Research Institute build a presence in the UK over the next six months. They have fantastic research facilities around smart farming, wearables & human performance and have 8 smart homes equipped with over 800 sensors each so an exciting opportunity.

– We started a monthly paid for #iot trends report called The Imaginary Unit with Peter Bihr and Patrick Tanguay. This should help some of those senior executives struggling to understand the internet of things.

– We’ll be delivering the third IOTAngels Master Class hosted at the Digital Catapult next week. These tend to be really small intimate events, but investors appreciate the attention and time to have a good conversation.

Cards 17

– We’re helping Tina Aspiala run a workshop for Know Cards in London on March 6th. This is a really exciting tool for planning #iot projects before you start buying things.  Come along, it’s $95 and includes a Complete Pack which is worth $149.

iwd_header_2015

– We’ve also been organising the third edition of Tech City International Women’s Day Showcase. It’s a fundraising event for a Hackney charity that helps women and children in abusive homes. We’ll be showcasing women’s work in technology and the creative industies, so come along and get a ticket! We’ll feed you well. We’re also looking for sponsors to cover the cost of doing the event, so shout if you’d like to help!

dj_t-shirt_undercover_white

– As a bit of fun as as I’m a bit of a jive aficionado (a very easy partner dance from the 1950s)  I designed a t-shirt for Diamond Jive, the group running classes and club nights I’ve been attending.

– Finally the first batch of the Good Night Lamp is slowly coming together and I’ll be hand-assembling them in late Feb to deliver to our first customers across the UK & Europe for the first week of March. After 10 years on this project, this is very exciting.

gnl_2015_100set

The Internet of things for the common man & woman

I took part in the Digital Catapult Advisory Meeting this afternoon and we were presented an exam question: How do you sell #iot to the average man/woman?

Here’s my suggestions of things to say to people who ask this in the pub (note: this will possibly never happen):

Making sure your grandfather can stay healthy & independent in his own home longer because we can track his blood sugar level, whether he’s fallen, how long its been since he’s talked to someone else all remotely, engaging NHS, social care services and local communities at the right time. Don’t think about it as tracking, think about it as caring.

Support homeless children and adults and women in domestic abuse situations have access to help quicker because we know where they are when they need help with sensors and GPS tracking.

– Helping you and your children manage your asthma & allergies better because city councils can tell what the level of pollution is on busy streets with sensors attached to street lamps. So pedestrian only areas can be planned for, or transport alternative offered dynamically to you by apps like CityMapper.

Help improve your work environment and eyesight if you work with computers by measuring the environment you work in and your posture reminding you when to take breaks too.

Let you know quickly if your house is going to be flooded.

These are simple, but if we can’t convince people like my mother that the internet of things isn’t some kind of job-killing technology-driven-corporate-led move to destroy society, we’ll never get the support we need in the UK to innovate. If you have more, do add them to the comments!

 

Fear & loathing in the internet of things

I’ve been asked by BLN to come to Cambridge and give another talk at IOT Forum one of the best events on #iot in the world along with Thingscon. This’ll be my third time there and this blog post is I suppose the prep work for that talk. For the past 6 months, I’ve been seeing an interesting change of mood amongst internet of things commentators and could-be consumers. We started 2014 in such a positive light, CES was full of interesting new product ideas, “The Year of the Internet of Things” some said and Google had just bought Nest too! But then nothing else really happened. No really big consumer acquisitions were made, just B2B ones. And large corporations were latching on to one of the least credible, but sexier applications of connected technologies: wearables. So last month at CES we ended up with a show full of wearables and little excitement. Most consumers haven’t bought one yet and I’m sure they’re already tired of reading about them, even before the “Watch” comes out in April. When people don’t believe in something, they start nit picking. So for the past 4 months we’re being bombarded with the privacy, security & interoperability implications of connected products and how it’s all just a terrible idea. And quickly it’s clear that a wave of “meh” has just crashed onto technology journalists before anything really happened. So I thought I’d dissect this a little and give them reasons to care, still, about what may be emerging.

1. 10 reasons why the internet of things will fail…

…is the most common title for most articles, but this simply doesn’t work that way. Firstly, internet of things isn’t something that fails like a car runs out of batteries. It’s like saying that industrialisation is failing. “Some applications of connected technologies may not match user needs” may be a better way of describing it. When, in business school, we talk about 80% of SMEs failing within the first 2 years, we don’t question the environment they try to work in. So why should we say that the internet of things is an area not worth working in? It’s just another industry, where some will succeed and others will fail because they’ve understood how to develop a connected product that their customers want to buy. In so many ways, it’s really just business as usual, just with new technologies in the mix.

2. Only interoperability will make the internet of things succeed

This is sweet. If I walk into the average home, the only commonality is the fact that they all can be plugged into sockets, and some need batteries to operate. Every time I buy a television, I need a new remote for it, I can’t use the old one. There are plenty of examples of lack of interoperability that force consumers into buying more, discarding more.  We have created the perfect machine for mindless consumption which is what gets some organisations interested in the internet of things. Another way of selling more of their things, with hopefully minimal impact on manufacturing processes. So they join #iot consortiums and try to figure out how to interoperate with companies that aren’t competitors. That’s not what I want as a consumer. I want to be able to 3D print spare parts for my broken washing machine. I want an API for my dishwasher so I can actually tell how much water it uses versus hand washing. I want to be able to get a quote for a new boiler from the internal state of my existing boiler by pressing a button that will put a call out to builders in the area. I don’t want a smart home, I don’t want home automation, I want things that work better because they understand the digital ecology they now exist in. We don’t need interoperability to advance further, we need bolder, better user interactions and for large FMG and white goods manufacturers to take risks and offer more imaginative, open services. And yes technical interoperability will help but I really think it’s something a lot of companies are hiding behind while they craft their global product strategy.

3. Don’t wait for another Google. 

I wouldn’t wait for another Google acquisition in this space for a while or anyone big for that matter. People are sitting on their hands, waiting for the next Pebble. The rogue team that puts out a killer app. The best ideas I see are 2-3 people teams in the UK & Europe with no access to funding, just bootstrapping their way through the next few months. I just hope they can hold on for a little longer, the investment market will open up, as incubators start to specialise and design school programs get better connected to industry. I hope they just keep calm and carry on. Everyone’s eyes are on them after all.

4. Privacy!

Considering we can’t even begin to convince people to not use 12345 as a password online, I think we can assume we’ll have problems with any technology that introduces more passwords. So there, maybe we should go hide in the countryside where there’s no 3G or wifi. Or just assume shit will happen and prepare for it for when it does.

8th End of Year Review

A rather personal tradition on this blog, but one I’ve stuck to thanks to Molly Steenson who initiated this years before we met when this blog was my thesis project blog.

1.What did you do in 2014 that you’d never done before?
Spend a month away from London for work. That felt very weird.

2. Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I’m not sure what they were but they did involve staying fit which I’ve been doing thanks to Diamond Jive. This year though, I’d like to spend time with friends who are slowly leaving the country for far away, more profitable places.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Not yet.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No.

5. What countries did you visit?
Scotland, Germany, Finland, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Belgium, Canada

6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2014?
Not much.

7. What date from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory?
March 8th.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Pushing through with the Good Night Lamp’s first batch which is now in production. Also putting on IOT Angels Master Classes. We’ve done two and our third is coming up. Working with the BBC R&D North Lab folks again, Nominet R&D & Digital Catapult. Some really talented people in those organisations.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Misjudging the shape of some work relationships.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Nothing serious.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
A birthday meal at the River Café for me and my best friend.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
Berg for closing Bergcloud and Little Printer. I’ve written about their amazing work. It made me sad but I think they should be recognised as pioneers in the wild. Who will catch them all!?

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
Most airlines.

14. Where did most of your money go?
The Good Night Lamp (again and again)

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Going back to dancing regularly thanks to Diamond Jive.

16. What song/album will always remind you of 2014?

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
Happier.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
More writing and doodling in my sketchbooks. They’ve become to do lists this year.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Travelling.

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
With loved ones.

21. Who did you spend the most time on the phone with?
F.

22. Did you fall in love in 2014?
See above.

23. What was your favourite TV programme?
I still don’t watch TV, maybe I should change this question.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
No

26. What was the best book(s) you read?
I’m great at starting books in parallel so started but haven’t finished and really enjoying

The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane
All that is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity by Marshall Berman
The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
The War on Drugs, Future Islands, Blood Orange & Rodriguez

28. What did you want and get?
Opportunities to work with great people.

29. What did you want and not get?
Understand how to grow teams effectively. I’m still learning how to do that.

30. What were your favourite films of this year?
I watched most films in airplanes and really enjoyed The One I Love, The Grand Budapest Hotel and discovered Pina.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 34 a few weeks ago, got a haircut, went to lunch and then to see Edward Scissorhands at Sadler’s Wells.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
More time.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?
Retro.

34. What kept you sane?
Hanging out with A., J. and F.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
No time for that this year really.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
Syria again. Can’t believe how much things have just kept deteriorating in the Middle East since I left as a child.

37. Who did you miss?
My family & my nieces and nephews.

38. Who was the best new person you met?
F.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014.
Some things come to those who wait. Not all, but some and maybe that’s enough.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year?

“When you say it’s gonna happen “now”
well, when exactly do you mean?
see I’ve already waited too long”

How to run a hardware or maker focused hackathon / event

We’ve just finished organising a Demo Day for Intel ® Edison a new maker hardware platform which was great fun.

After years of running Arduino workshops, corporate training days and other hardware centric events at Tinker it seems there is renewed interest in this format. The amount of press around the internet of things means new people are interested in supporting the rapid making / hacking of hardware. Sometimes it’s to promote a new platform or hardware, other times it’s to see if new novel investable ideas are created. After a recent conversation with an intern organising his first hardware event for a well known incubator program, I thought I’d share how we do things here as it might benefit others. This was also prompted by Arial Waldman’s excellent post on organising Science Hack Days.

I’m making a number of assumptions moving forward on this post:

  • You have budget for hardware
  • You have budget for technical experts
  • You are running a 2-3 day event
  • There is a commercial drive behind the event (otherwise you wouldn’t have budget for 1. or 2.)
  • Attendance is free (meaning you will get a mix of attendees, not hand-picked ones)

0. What are you doing?

Before you open an excel spreadsheet and plan your event’s budget and timing, you’ve got to ask yourself what success looks like. Is it that you want new ideas, new prototypes and feedback on a hardware platform or simply entertain people by getting them to make things? Depending on the answer, your event will be very different.

If you want new ideas, forget about the hardware as coming up with an idea, developing a business case around it, and pitching doesn’t require any prototyping. Prototyping will have a role when you want to test your product idea with potential users and validate some of your assumptions. It will take you more than 3 days to do this well and this format is best addressed by longer design workshops.

If you want new prototypes or feedback on a platform read on.

1. Introduce everyone

Before you plunge into a 20 minute introduction, before you make teams, before you even say hello, make sure people have tools to introduce themselves. A sticky badge with their first name will do (corporate badges are often too small to read and make everyone feel like a tradeshow attendee). Then make sure you go around the room and get everyone (team & attendees) to say their name and profession. It’s simple, stupid and so very effective at getting people to acknowledge each other and get the team to think about who might need more or less help.

2. Tools don’t make ideas. 

Organisers often think that by putting people in a room with a 3D printer, a laser cutter and some electronics this will generate great ideas. This is rarely the case.

You should always take the time to actually teach people how to use the tools you’re supplying from scratch on the morning of the first day, levelling the playing field as much as possible and getting everyone to learn something new and talk to each other.

Arduino is still my favorite platform because there is so much documentation and example projects shared by the community.

If you’re teaching people about 3D printing & lasercutting, teach them with something like Tinkercad or get a people like Inition or Razorlab  to do some training.

If you’re a new hardware or software platform provider, really make sure that documentation is available for a total beginner. You never know who your attendees will be, so don’t assume they know either anything about electronics or anything about code. Of you have a bunch of experts in the mix, just make sure they are sat next to each other and they will plough on ahead while you do the introductory bits.

3. Have basic materials

Not everyone will want to build a whole end product, so always make sure you have paper, scissors, glues, knives, cutting mats, a soldering iron and all manners of craft materials to get people going quickly. Play-doh, lego and the usual post-its and pens are also useful. I’ve ended up with a suitcase full of this that I take to events that we are running. It might not be used, but you never want to assume what kinds of ideas people will have.

4. Provide technical support

Providing technical help to attendees is really crucial when you’ve provided new tools. We have always designed events with teams of 2-3 attendees max and one technical expert per 2 teams. It’s a high ratio but you wouldn’t believe how important those people are to your event. Just because an attendee is sat at a computer looking serious, doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing. The role of your technical expert is to ask “how’s it going” over and over again and know when to let people get on with it after they’ve pointed them in the right direction. There’s also nothing worse than a technical expert who tries to build the thing for the attendee. It’s about building a sense of confidence in attendees. They are new to this, but once the event is over, they should know how to keep going on their own and know what resources to tap into.

5. Provide documentation

Stop printing pieces of paper, just put all your documentation on github. Even if your attendees have never heard of it, they’ll learn how to use it. Github will be key in building up the documentation needed between the workshop leader and the technical experts. Giving them a chance to add to the documentation and experiment before will make them more ready for questions.

6. Encourage team work but don’t push people into it

Just because you are trying to get a good mix of people, doesn’t mean they want to work with each other or will sync up at all. Get people to share their ideas on an ideas wall or online before the event and let teams naturally happen, or not. You won’t get better ideas if you force interactions between attendees. They’ll feel bossed around like kids.

7. Champion & document ideas

After an event, all the ideas that people are working should be documented and listed on github. People should be able to upload a picture of what they were working on, what they tried to build and the code they used. This is a great way of championing all the attendees and their work.

8. Always close with a demo

Another way of championing people is to get them to present what they have done to the rest of the group. You are closing their experience and making sure they work to a deadline. This is really important in making attendees feel like they’ve achieved something during their time. If you don’t do a closing demo, someone could simply bury themselves in a deep dark problem that might take weeks. If there’s a demo, they know they can’t focus on the deep dark problem and should just get on with getting something to work. Always clap (as Russell says) after each presentation and never give them more than 5-10 minutes to present or you’ll be there all night.

With all this, and the basics (feed them well, give them daylight) you should have a great time and accomplish your aims. Enjoy your hackday!

 

Elderly care and the internet of things

Last week I took part in a workshop run by DIOTTO an EU-funded project on the use of connected products in elderly care. Some real issues came up which I thought I’d share. It’s important to note we were mainly looking at the use of connected hardware to enhance the relationship between carers and an elderly person who is still independent and living at home.

1. Defining “seniors”.
Louisa and Marcel pointed out that during most of your work life you are categorised and targeted (by Acorn and others). But once you hit 60, you are a “senior” which is unhelpful. Profiling on the basis of technology uptake (do they have an iPad or not) is also unhelpful. We need to be granular about designing for an ageing population which is diverse and often has disposable income in the early years of retirement.

2. Transitional technologies
What kinds of technologies do we need to design that a person will find useful using at 60 and will help them in their 70s and 80s? Noone wants to be “tracked” while they are independent, but once that first fall happens, smart environments may save your life. Is personal data the price to pay to be let to live an independent life in the later stages of life? This is a hard problem to tackle as it means admitting we may be in need of help. Noone wants to think that way, people will often avoid buying a wheelchair even when they need it, because admitting that you’re at “that stage” is an awful blow to your pride. As designers we need to be sensitive to the fact that people may never have a good relationship with our product.

3. Types of care
The word “carer” is misleading. It treats family, friends and healthcare professionals in the same way. Their impact on the life of an ageing person is very different. Many older people suffer from extreme loneliness and isolation, especially men. On Radio 4 the other day, professional carers were interviewed and shared their distress at visiting a patient for only a few minutes a day. That person looked forward to that conversation all day. These are realities of medical support, but we know that a strong social support makes people more resilient.

4. Getting old
Noone likes to think of themselves as “old”. My 79 year old grandmother who sadly has stage 2 Alzheimer’s disease and thinks her care home is full of “old people” so she doesn’t socialise with them. We’ve been successful at stigmatising the wisest people in our communities to the point even they don’t want to own up to it. The Homeshare scheme is brilliant but can we build opportunities for knowledge exchange like the Amazings while using emerging technologies? What will the 50 year olds of today, with their wearable tech, look like and act like in 20 years? Will they be naturally more digitally social? Will their use of technology make up for day to day face to face interactions? Will they be better at staying connected with their families around the world?

These are all questions we should be answering to as designers. Technology has a role to play but perhaps it’s a more subtle one than technologists realise. A good old user-centered approach should dictate what gets designed. As a result we may find that sensors and connected products are best placed as touch points of new services as opposed to the soul focus of design.

#yearnotes

It’s been a hell of a year, peppered with great work with many clients as our consulting activities ramped up.

This year we’ve done many things:

– Helped finalise the outreach activities of Eyehub, a government funded internet of things demonstrator project

– Wrote a report (pdf) on what connected products businesses needed in the UK for the Digital Catapult. We then helped them test some of those findings by designing and running the Boost event last October.

– Wrote two research papers for Nominet R&D on various verticals of the internet of things.

– Helped a client of the Arduino group understand the types of maker projects that could influence the homes of the future

– Helped support the research efforts of trends and market researchers like Future Foundation, the Future Laboratory, Advantage research, The Futures Company, Sturm und Drang.

– Helped government departments like the Danish Ministry of Rural Affairs understand what makes the UK a great place for the internet of things

– Took part in design and research workshops run across the country and gave talks around the world.

– Gave a freely accessible webinar on the internet of things for RS Components after we helped them with content for their new design centre.

– Ran a paper wearables workshop at the Victoria and Albert Museum to feed into Connected, a quarterly paper publication we launched at Thingscon.

– Spent the summer with BBC R&D North Lab and Adrian Woolard‘s team looking at how they approach #iot

– Helped support Tech City UK and the Technology Strategy Board’s promotion of a funding call for internet of things startups. We designed and ran a day of engagement for London startups to meet other potential partners and hear about the details of the competition.

– Just spent two weeks with Wintec Research, an applied research centre in Hamilton New Zealand who offer various technical and research capabilities which are very #iot focused. I’m happy to say we will be helping them grow a UK & European presence in the new year. More to come on that.

– Designed and ran a Demo Day to show off Intel® ‘s new maker-friendly platform Edison to a community of developers. If you’d like to meet the workshop attendees, join us for drinks next week in Shoreditch. We’ll have a tab behind the bar :)

– Ran our first Master Class for investors to understand the internet of things. The next one is up on December 16th.

– And finally this week, after 10 years of slow development, the production of the first batch of Good Night Lamp’s has started. There are still a few on sale, so buy now.

So what’s next? Back in May, I decided to give up our office on Scrutton Street. Shoreditch was getting really expensive and I realised that with all the client work we had, I was only really in the office a day a week. I wanted to experiment with working remotely with Ana and for months we both worked from home. It’s time to experiment with being located somewhere again and as of next week I will be starting a six month residency at the Digital Catapult’s Centre.

This is exciting as it will allow me to test out an idea I’ve been mulling over for the past month. What does a centre of expertise on the internet of things look like? Is it a member’s club? Is it a gallery? Is it a school? These are all models I’m interested in experimenting with and the Centre with great people like Marko Balabanovic and Maurizio Pilu is the perfect place to start to have those conversations. I hope you’ll come say hi and if you’d like to have conversations about these models, I’d love to hear from you.

In the meantime I hope you’ll join me over startups, mulled wine and mince pies at the Christmas edition of the London Internet of things meetup on the 16th. It’s a showcase event and I’ve designed a little treat for attendees. If i don’t see you then, happy holidays!

 

November News

It’s super busy here and although I don’t think we’ll end up with #weeknotes I thought I’d share what’s going on.

Research

  • I’m in New Zealand at the moment on my second week of an Internet of Things Fellowship in Hamilton’s Wintec Applied Research Institute. These guys have a lot of sensor-based client projects especially in the farming sector but I’m helping them understand the potential of their facilities in other contexts and who they could collaborate with. I’ve been working with the very talented Gert Hattingh and Mariana Van Der Walt here and bullied them into starting a Twitter feed too.
  • I’m also finishing off a piece of research on smart cities for Nominet R&D who have been asked by Oxford City Council to look at the local and international landscape to help them develop a relevant strategy.

Building communities

  • We’re running a Demo Day for Intel’s new internet of things platform Edison on the 28th, it’s a free event and although it’s already sold out, we’ve put up a waiting list. The day is lead by Adrian McEwen our long-standing collaborator in Liverpool. Our experience with these things is that there’s always some last minute cancellations, so if you’re interested, sign up! We’re also looking for an additional sponsor to help cover food on the day (from our friends at Feast) if you’re interested, drop me a line.
  • We ran the first edition of IOTAngels, a half day introduction to the internet of things for investors last month and our next edition will run on December 16th right before the IOT London Meetup Christmas Showcase.
  • We’re also helping ImagoTechMedia to scout out some local talent in the startup community to showcase at an upcoming Insurance & Internet of Things conference in London in January. Sign up on F6S if you’d like to show your project to the conference attendees or get in touch with Jan if you’d like to speak or sponsor the event!

Collaborative projects

  • The second edition of Connected, a quarterly paper publication on the internet of things is out now on sale worldwide. Many thanks to Tristam Sparks an old friend from my Ivrea days for joining the team in designing this very professional layout.

Product development

  • I’ve decided after 2 years to make a small batch of Good Night Lamps under the corporate umbrella of designswarm. We’re partnering with Eseye, an M2M company we met on the Eyehub project last year. If you’re interested in a limited edition of the lamps using walnut veneer, have a look at our little secret store where we have a few left on our batch of 100 Sets.

Talks

  • I’ll be speaking and participating in a workshop on accessible internet of things products in Antwerp, an event organised by DIOTT.
  • Next year I’ll be coming States-side (that rarely happens) to contribute to the Great Lakes Software Conference in Michigan. If you’re at either of these come say hi and if you’re interested in having me speak at an event, you now need to get in touch with the London Speaker Bureau who are now representing me!

Making & the corporate office

(This was originally written for and published in last month’s in Andrew Sleigh’s beautiful zine Hot Glue)

make_zine

I’ve worked for all sorts of businesses: large, medium and small and they all share a common aspiration: to be more like start-ups. You can’t swing a cat without taking part in a meeting where organisations wonder how to become more agile, fun and disruptive like start-ups appear to be. The maker movement has created a whole new set of aspirations.

To make means to invent, to be engaged in the manufacturing of new ideas and products. It means to act in the world, with your hands and with tools which are cheaper and easier to access than ever before. This is such an important idea even Obama announced a National Day of Making. “Makers” describes the collective notion of people solving problems together but alone too. The ideology of making is very much about learning step by step, using new tools and trying things that have never been tried before. This makes a lot of business sense. By building a maker-friendly environment a business can increase their competitiveness, support employee training and identify talent among the various layers of management. It supports the idea of organisations as meritocratic environments of innovation and not political or bureaucratic ones. More often than not though there is a little bit of cargo culture happening inside already creative businesses who get on the maker bangwagon.

Someone buys 3D printers only to have them sit there being unused. They build “workshops” which are essentially a meeting room turned into a storage unit for the latest gadgets on Kickstarter. They run hackathons where more post-its get used than solder. They have curated showrooms to show other people’s work. In short they don’t end up making at all. Building a maker-friendly environment is a holistic exercise of redesigning your own internal culture. Here are some easy first steps to help you do this.

 

Building a maker space

You have to create a space that is going to be both useful and used often. This may be tricky when you may be running out of meeting rooms, but control the urge to make this anything other than a dedicated space for work that isn’t meetings. This space shouldn’t be “bookable”. It should be open for people to use whenever they like. If they want a meeting, they can go somewhere else. A lot of indirect value is derived by working next to someone building something quietly. Make sure this space isn’t anywhere near people working on laptops as the noise of laser cutters and 3D printers, sawing and generally making is going to be disruptive to them and you don’t want to create a culture that says that the noisy people aren’t working as hard as the others.

Buy tables and chairs on wheels that can be moved around easily. Have power sockets on the floor and avoid carpet (no one likes to vacuum random chips and cables). Make sure you have lots of natural light coming in (don’t set this up in the basement, this isn’t the 90s) and whiteboards everywhere. Add some lockers and shelves so people can leave projects nearby or stored safely out of reach. The visual accumulation of work is how progress is felt on a project and in a space. This is good. You can clean things up when you get to the end of a project.

When you’re not sure about what to put in your maker space, let people bring their own things, you might find out your organisation is full of secret tinkerers. Let your organisation shape the type of making you do, don’t let yourself be influenced by visual lifestyle maker culture. Most of the 3D printers you see in offices never get used.

 

Train & hire well

When you’re making a maker space, the first challenge is to not create a knowledge gap inside your organisation between people who don’t know how to make things and people who have been tinkering on weekends for years. Instead of creating ghettos of geeks, you want to train your entire organisation in using the tools you end up working with. You’d be surprised how many people can’t even work a power drill. If every new staff gets an induction in the space and gets an hour or so with someone who is using the space to make something, you are creating a link between your day to day job and the act of making. You’re allowing people with no technical experience to understand the creative and innovative potential of making rather than rule it out as “a waste of time”. You are also creating champions for the space whose work can be seen as it grows and changes. Keep the space really organised, and if you can afford it, have a technician take care of the space and ordering things as ideas emerge so you can keep the tools in the space relevant and interesting.

 

Champion the work

This could be out of a text book on social media, but championing the work you do inside the maker space has to start with very small everyday actions. A good way to start is having demo times once a week where the business comes together in that space and gets an update on what is being built. People can ask questions of the maker and propose projects they might want to work on to find collaborators. This meeting has to happen in the space as it gives it credit and says that this is part of doing business. Building a visual history of the work done is important. Starting an Instagram account for the space which people can post to and use the same tag is a great way to spread the word across staff and the outside world. Printing out pictures of new tools and posting them in the kitchen means people can share the progress and improvements at their own pace. Not everyone in your organisation is a maker but they should know what’s going on too. Avoid long newsletters, no one reads them now. If the work done isn’t mission critical, create a blog for the space which has a different identity to the rest of the business so employees can create their own voice through it and can gather interest from the wider community and potentially present it at tradeshows and conferences.

 

Making is as much about a process of interacting with space and tools as a way to produce new ideas. Ignore the people aspect of this and you end up with a glorified meeting room. Apply too much pressure on the space being worth the investment and you strangle good ideas before they have the time to blossom. These types of spaces are crucial to organisations who want to foster a renewed sense of identity, creativity and fun in their team, but they are hard work. On the other hand, nothing ventured, nothing gained. You’ll find that if your maker space is successful, new ideas will be brought forward, prototyped well and people will collaborate with each other more, a real maker community.

IoT Insurance Startup Competition

We’re working in collaboration with Imago Techmedia on a startup friendly competition which will run alongside their IoT Big Data: Insurance conference early next year. We’re looking for companies who are building IoT products for the insurance industry:

Are you developing a connected product that is suited to the insurance sector? Then this is your chance to showcase your work on January 29th at the IOT Big Data: Insurance conference in London.

This unique industry conference will feature a selection of fifteen startups during the day who will get a chance to win three cash prizes.

You have until December 15th to apply to be one of the startups who showcases on the day.

What is IOT Big Data: Insurance

IOT Big Data: Insurance is the first conference dedicated to bringing together the insurance sector with the world of the Internet of Things. Connected devices, cars, wearables and homes will change the way the industry engages with its consumer and industrial customers. The data generated by these devices will bring with it, great change, challenges and opportunities. On January 29th, 2015, Imago TechMedia, the conference originators, will bring the best technology leaders and most promising startups together to share their knowledge and vision with the best of the insurance sector in London and beyond.

For startups this is an opportunity to meet insurance professionals in an exclusive context, get their feedback and create business opportunities.

Application Process

You can apply to be one of the fifteen startups selected to attend the showcase and pitch event by answering a few simple questions on our F6S page

If you’re selected to go to the next phase, you’ll have a quick call with designswarm who will ask a few questions about your product/idea.

Once you’ve been selected to attend the showcase and pitch event, you’ll receive careful coaching from designswarm to make sure you’re ready for the day and understand everything involved in attending.

Who can apply?

Startups or SMEs with less than £1 million investment and staff of less than 25 employees
You can be based anywhere in the world as long as you can attend the event on the 29th of January in London
You must be developing an internet-connected hardware + software product that is particularly suited  to the insurance sector

What does the showcase and pitch event entail?

If you’re selected to attend on the 29th of January, you will be showcasing your work all day at the conference and give a short pitch if you are one of the five startups shortlisted. The winners will be announced at the end of the conference around 5pm.

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